When our US students go overseas on school building trips, they live in a remote village for about two weeks, working side by side with the local people on the construction. They dig and make dozens of bricks by hand. When they leave there’s typically a small wall that will, in time, be expanded to a schoolhouse that they’ll never see in person. Due to this, we often take these students to previously-constructed buildOn schools about halfway through the trip. While in Mali last month, School Building Trip Coordinator Brian Socall enjoyed the rare experience of revisiting a village he had journeyed to one year ago. Here are his thoughts on seeing the fruits of his labors in the form of a completed school for the first time.
School building trip coordinators such as myself usually don’t get a chance to revisit village where they construct. buildOn is constantly moving into new areas, and it’s just not practical to set it up that way. But on the trip to Mali I took with some Chicago students in July of this year, I got to go back to a school I helped build a year earlier. This was really awesome for me; I got to see a lot of the same people I had worked with a year ago on the school. It’s also a really helpful experience for the teens because they’re working 4 hours a day in the village and they’re not really seeing what it’s going to look like as a finished product. It’s incredibly motivating for the students to see what their work will eventually turn into.
We were in the village of Ble this year; I was returning to Sousounkoro-Sanso. The villages are a few hours away from another, and require long drives through the bush. We only allot about an hour for these visits due to the travel time and the logistics of the construction schedule.
Upon re-entering Sousounkoro-Sanso I was reminded of the rapport I had established with the locals pretty quickly. On the work site a year ago we would all say “Walla Walla!” to each other constantly in an effort to bridge the language barrier with a nonsense phrase. When I went back some of the guys who remembered me approached me and starting saying “Walla Walla!” Even though we couldn’t speak the same language, they remembered me. It brought back a lot of great memories of our time working together, and finding ways to communicate using only the few bambara words we learn there.
After entering the village we do some dancing, take a tour, and give some speeches, and we ask questions about the school’s success. I was really overwhelmed because the school looked phenomenal, as well as the latrines and a separate structure for teachers to meet in that we’d constructed. It all looked fantastic and really gave the students a “vision” of the completed project.
I saw a lot of the students and their families, who acted and spoke very appreciative. So far the school is sending boys and girls to the school in equal numbers as outlined by the Covenant; it’s not a huge village, so there are about 70 students, but it’s nice to know that they don’t have to worry about rain or storms. The schoolmaster has continued to urge the parents to send their kids to school, too. It was overwhelming to see how the community wanted to show off everything they’d worked for.
This trip really motivated the students from the US to return to the Ble and put their all into the build; they were able to see a little bit of how a school can transform a village. This also helps the fundraising projects they do back home, because they’ve seen the tangible project of buildOn’s efforts and can make an emotional connection. And for me, personally, it put my work here at buildOn in a whole new perspective, being able to see what my students and I did a year ago in this small village.